ALIGN FOOTWEAR INSOLES
137g (size 9/43) £48
Align footwear insoles are designed with “tri planer” technology, which we are told is an orthotic built into the foot beds. These supposedly work in a holistic fashion, correcting any imperfections in posture/alignment. Apparently, when broken in correctly, they work biometrically. Naturally supporting the feet, aligning the kinetic chain, ultimately relieving pain in the knee hip and back and neck.
As we’d expect from a set of insoles commanding this kind of cash, these are packing a fair bit of tech. The shanks feature Perbax, a lightweight, thermoplastic elastomer. I’m probably not alone in thinking this was to improve shock absorption but I’m told its primary purpose, is to prevent the insoles cracking.
I wasn’t surprised to find EVA (Ethylene Vinyl Acetate), SEBS(Styrene/Ethylene Butylene/Styrene), and Poron shock-pad foam assuming these duties, while also keeping the insoles supple.
The Danish brand’s online sizing chart is very comprehensive and easy to follow and, like most
online retailers, there’s also virtual support. I’m a 43 in street, 44 in cycling shoes. Sharon is 5-.5.5 in street shoes, depending on brand, shape, style etc. We opted for 43 and 37/38, respectively - both absolutely bang-on.
Given these aren’t cycling specific, I was particularly impressed by their sizing and precision fit. Align say you can expect to feel a difference pretty much immediately and that correct alignment may feel weird to begin with. However, this should never result in discomfort. Align operates a customer helpline and recommends getting in touch, should discomfort persist after a month’s use.
Careful bedding in is paramount for optimal and prolonged benefit. Wear them for an hour for the first day and increase this incrementally 2-3 hours the next day, 3 to 4 hours, up to a full day.
Bargain on a week before they’ll assume your correct shape. If running is involved (cyclo-cross or triathlon being obvious examples) Align recommends wearing them a full 4-5 full days before the event.
I’m pleased to report ours are still smelling very fragrant after 450 mixed terrain summer miles but I tested claims they could be machine washed. No problem at 30 degrees and with minimal detergent. Resist any tumble drying temptation and bargain on 2 hours, when line drying on a warm day.
Before I discuss their performance, let’s put this test into context. My general posture is good and I have legs of equal length. However, my right femur is longer, which on the bike causes me to lean, subtly to the left.
It’s worth mentioning that I’ve had a complete bike fit assessment done in the past, hence other factors including saddle height, stem, crank and bar widths have been ruled out. Without foot beds, nagging irritation in my left shoulder (and I’m told, some physical signs) become apparent after three hours in the saddle.
I’ve alternated between my three main pairs of cycling shoes and during the bedding-in phase, they’ve also served time in my office moccasins. Align were also kind enough to send my fiancé a pair. She suffers from upper back and neck pain, resultant from being hit from behind in her car.
Fit is exacting, never once spoiling the snugness of my cycling shoes, regardless of genre, or indeed brand. Psychologically, I wasn’t surprised to notice a positive difference within the first few minutes. I also felt better aligned on my bikes during the formative rides but dismissed this as the placebo effect until I’d racked up the recommended hours.
As the weeks and miles have crept up, I’ve been most aware of their benefits given three, or four hours, or when dismounting from the bike and walking around at rest stops. Anecdotally, the pressure below my left shoulder blade is completely gone and I’ve been very attune to any hint of discomfort arising from their use.
200 miles in and they were only conspicuous by their absence, although it’s too early to say they are genuinely superior to those supplied following a bike specific fitting a few years before. Sharon had noticed a slightly alien but not uncomfortable change in her walking, which she quickly and painlessly acclimatised to. Her posture and stability also improved and discomfort from her neck downward has also, largely evaporated.
Our experience has been, for the most part, very positive and the insoles seem of a high standard. Playing Devil’s advocate, they are double the asking price of some cycling specific foot beds, supplied as part of a bike-fit consultation. If your posture is otherwise fine and you have no other discomfort, I’d stick with those.
Direct comparison is difficult and slightly unfair, given the Align are more versatile and appear to make good transition between street and cycling shoes. They also offer a 60 day money back guarantee, if you are not genuinely finding them beneficial.
I would strongly advocate investing in a shop based bike fitting assessment, undertaken by a qualified technician, especially for new, or returnees to cycling. This should also be accompanied by a thorough medical examination, following an accident and to rule out a more serious, underlying condition.
Verdict: 3.5/5 Expensive compared with bike specific models and no substitute for medical/bike fit consultation. However, we noticed some definite benefits.
PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER 2017